Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek    47

already serialized chapters). But this is not, I believe, the point. If the figure of Švejk lacks overall unity it is not just because of the hazardous circum­stances of his birth, but above all because he was born under the star of chance. Hašek made this clear when he called this patchwork quilt ac­count of Švejk's adventures Fortunes to underline the capricious, play-like nature of his novel. It is always luck, whether good or bad, that makes the story unfold.

The trajectory of Švejk's adventures is thus a chain of somewhat im­probable happenings linked in a quasi-causal way. Actions do have effects, but these cannot be fully calculated in advance: they are always coinci­dences of several random events. Let us look, for example, at the circum­stances of Švejk's release from the Hradčany military stockade. It was not his playing the role of a reformed sinner during Chaplain Katz's sermon that got Švejk released but his "frank" admission to Katz that he cried just to amuse everybody. My quotation marks are meant to indicate that the surprising answer to the chaplain's prodding, "Confess that you only blubbed for fun, you sod," was not motivated entirely by Švejk's candor but was a wager of a sort: "'Humbly report, sir,' said Švejk deliberately, staking everything on a single card [emphasis mine]... that I was really only blubbing for fun'" (116; 88). Luckily for him, this was the sixty-four-dollar answer. Yet, if the indictments against him had not been misfiled with the papers pertaining to Josef Koudela's case, Švejk would not have regained his freedom and a comfortable position working with the erratic chaplain.

To simplify matters somewhat, I could say that the unpredictable na­ture of Hašek's novelistic universe is generated by the interaction of two forces. There are, on the one hand, the machinations of hostile social insti­tutions which, from an individual's perspective, are utterly arbitrary (the haphazard nature of the legal system in the story just cited). This percep­tion of the world, Kosík shrewdly observed, makes Hašek akin to Kafka. The second source of randomness is Švejk's free play (or that of characters such as Katz). His "catholic" principles (for example, crying for fun dur­ing mass and confessing to it) add by their capriciousness another layer of unpredictability to the world he inhabits. But here lies the difference be­tween Kafka and Hašek. Seeking desperately to cooperate with the enig­matic system and through unshakable logic to defend himself against the unfounded charges, Josef K. ends up dead. By matching the illogic of the system with his own idiosyncrasies, Josef S. stays alive.

This behavior does not make for a harmonious relationship with the au­thorities, and Švejk is tossed from one coercive institution to another. Yet, by multiplying the confusion inherent in the system itself, he disrupts the faltering mechanism and paralyzes the deadly grip it exercises over an in­dividual. Kosík is correct when he writes that through his work Hašek shows that even under

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